Stove Top Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives

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Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives. Photo © Christine Benlafquih
    105 mins
Ratings (23)

Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives is a classic Moroccan dish. Salty, lemony and zesty, it’s one of my personal favorites – and many Moroccans' too! Saffron is an optional but delicious, fragrant addition that I highly recommend.

This recipe is for conventional stove top preparation in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. The trick to this method is two-fold: 1) Don't add any water during the cooking and 2) reduce the sauce until the onions are a thick mass.

This dish can also be made by cooking in a traditional tagine or slow-roasting in the oven. The last method is useful when serving a large group of people.

Do not substitute fresh lemons for the preserved lemons. Outside of Morocco, you'll find it easy and inexpensive to make your own preserved lemons (allow a month for curing); or look for them in Middle Eastern and halal markets, or buy preserved lemons online.

Although it's not necessary, many cooks allow time for marinating the chicken. 

What You'll Need

  • 1 whole chicken, skin on or removed, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (or a mix of vegetable oil and olive oil; or a mix of oil and butter)
  • 2 very large white or yellow onions (1 lb or ½ kg), sliced as thinly as possible
  • one small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • one small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled (divided; optional)
  • For the Sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon smen (Moroccan preserved butter - optional)
  • 1 handful green or red olives, or mixed
  • 1 preserved lemon, quartered and seeds removed

How to Make It

Cook the Chicken

1. Ahead of time if possible, combine the chicken with the onion, garlic, herbs and spices, including half of the saffron. (Reserve the rest of the saffron for adding to the sauce at a later time.) If time allows, cover and leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.

2. When ready to cook, transfer the chicken and onions (scrape every last bit out of your bowl) to a heavy-bottomed pot, deep skillet or Dutch oven.

Cover and cook the chicken over medium or medium-low heat, gently stirring and turning the chicken every 15 minutes or so, until the chicken is tender enough to pinch off the bones. (This will take approximately one hour, but longer if using a free range chicken). Keep the heat adjusted so that the chicken doesn't scorch, and only add a little water if you feel you must. Typically the chicken will braise in its own juices.

3. When the chicken is cooked, carefully transfer it to a plate and cover.

Reduce the Sauce

1. Continue cooking the onion mixture and sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquids evaporate and the onions can be mashed into a blended mass which separates from the oils. If your onions do not appear to be melding, you can give a few pulses with an immersion blender, but do not over-process.

2. Add the preserved lemon, olives, the rest of the saffron, and a few tablespoons of water, and simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot to heat through, or place under the broiler to brown the skin.

Serve the Chicken

1. Place the chicken on a serving platter, pour the onion sauce over the top and sides, and garnish the top of the chicken with the quartered lemon and some olives.

2. For casual meals, consider garnishing the chicken with a handful or two of French Fries (Patate Frite), which may also be offered as a traditional side.

3. Moroccan tradition is to eat by hand, using crusty Moroccan bread for soaking up the sauce.